DOES "Rain Forest Crunch" really help the rain forest?
Some researchers have their doubts. Nuts, fruits, and oils from
Earth's tropical forests are featured in such popular items as Ben
& Jerry's ice cream, Body Shop bath beads, and the Rain Forest
Crunch candy made by Community Products, a Vermont-based company.
The goal is to create markets for goods that don't damage
fragile forest environments and will give tribal peoples who live
in the forests some much-needed cash. And that goal has been
realized, according to David Mayberry-Lewis, founder of Cultural
Survival, a Boston-area organization that pioneered the idea.
The rain-forest products sold to food companies or cosmetics
makers by Cultural Survival fetch a premium price, because they
carry a seal of ecological soundness. That premium goes into a fund
and is returned to the indigenous forest dwellers, Mr.
But efforts to "market the rain forest" may just distract from
deeper social and economic issues confronting those critical
habitats, argues Michael Dove, a senior fellow at the East-West
Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Mr. Dove, whose research has concentrated on Indonesia's rain
forests, says efforts to market ecologically benign forest products
- as opposed to wood, plantation-grown crops, and beef - are
misdirected if they assume that indigenous peoples should be kept
from destructive practices like logging.
The "real culprits," he wrote in a recent edition of Asia
Pacific Issues, the center's newsletter, are economic and political
elites who exploit the forests' trees and land for huge gains.
These groups aren't swayed by the relatively small income to be
derived from cashews, Brazil nuts, or tropical oils for shampoos or
skin care, he asserts.
"Today's search for new sources of income for poor forest
dwellers is often, in reality, a search for opportunities that have
no other claimants because they are relatively unattractive," Dove
Rain-forest preservationists are divided on the issue. There's
general agreement that the marketing of alternative products
shouldn't divert attention from bigger issues, like changing
Western patterns of consumption that support illegal logging in the
But there's also a feeling that such marketing has a role in the
preservation effort. Beto Borges of the Rain Forest Action Network
in San Francisco says that "for some people, it has enabled them
to remain in their social setting."
A good example, Mr. Borges says, is in Brazil's western Amazon
region, where the Yawanawa Indians are cultivating the urucum
plant, which produces a red seed used as a dye for lipstick. The
US-based Aveda company has a contract with the Indians that has
helped the tribe build a local economy.
But introducing indigenous communities to a cash economy can
also create problems, notes Simon Counsell, who heads Friends of
the Earth's forest campaign from the organization's London office. …